Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Equity Issues in the Academy: An Afro-Canadian Woman's Perspective

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Equity Issues in the Academy: An Afro-Canadian Woman's Perspective

Article excerpt

Equity Issues in the Academy: An Afro-- Canadian Woman's Perspective*

This article contends that the Canadian academy' is perpetuated by the dominant staffing of teaching and administrative positions with White males; the "Othering" and marginalization of minorities, especially Black women; resistance to curricula and textbooks that reflect non-White experiences or values; and diminished expectations of minority students. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, the author asserts that the Canadian academy can become a site of empowerment and equity for all if it realistically confronts issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, age, religion, and ability, and challenges the core of privilege and power given to some and not to others in Canadian society.

It is a strongly held conviction in Canada and other Western democracies that educational institutions play a central role in providing an environment that fosters the attainment of life opportunities for all students. The educational system is assumed to be the main instrument for acquiring the knowledge and skills that will ensure full participation and integration into Canadian society. However, a significant body of evidence demonstrates that the nation's educational institutions have preserved and perpetuated a system of structured inequality based on race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, age, and religious affiliation (Bannerji, 1991; Fleras, 1996; Henry, Tator, Mattis, & Rees, 2000; Ng, 1994). Through its institutions and systems of schooling, Canada has realized and maintained a reproduction of Anglo-dominated ideology and social order without much public awareness or open fanfare. Most Canadian educational administrators and decisionmakers are not even aware of the systemic bias inherent within their institutions, and even when they become aware, they most frequently deny or downplay the pervasiveness of such a bias.

Studies by Allingham (1992) and Moodley (1992), for example, reveal that education in Canada historically has been inseparable from efforts to amalgamate non-"Anglo" (non-European) cultures into the Canadian mainstream. This conformist attitude sought to absorb diverse immigrant and non-White indigenous groups into Canadian society by stripping them of their languages and cultures. All aspects of Canadian schooling, from teachers and textbooks to policy and curriculum, were subsumed by the principles of Anglocentric or Eurocentric conformity. Initiatives that veered away from this framework were treated as irrelevant and dangerous. Special ethnic-focused curricula or calls for emphases on other languages and cultures were rejected as inconsistent with the educational needs of Canadian society.

Today, the explicitly assimilationist model that once prevailed within Canadian educational circles is no longer officially endorsed. The new focus of education in Canada is increasingly to be responsive to diversity and to create a learning environment that acknowledges the cultures of all students (Henry, et al., 2000). Although these initiatives engage the rhetoric of cross-cultural communication, racial awareness and sensitivity, and healthy identity development, the widespread perception is that the Canadian academy is failing certain minorities and not providing them with a proper education. As Mukherjee (1993) has contended, this is because the tacit commitment to assimilation remains a central objective of that nation's educational system.

This article maintains that from its daily routines to critical decision-making, the Canadian academy remains organized to facilitate cultural indoctrination and social control of its students and those working within it. This reproductive function is accomplished in a direct manner through the dominant staffing of teaching and administrative positions within the academy with White males, the resistance by academics to curricula and textbooks that reflect anything other than mainstream (White or Anglocentric) experiences or values, and White Canadian teachers' diminished expectations of minority students. …

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